Lakers Escape with Signature Road Win

» May 24, 2009 2:52 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

The Los Angeles Lakers got off to another slow start in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, but came up with several big plays down the stretch to escape with a 103-97 win over the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers were outscored in the paint (40-34), on second-chance points (13-10), fastbreak points (19-10), and were dead even with the Nuggets in almost every other major statistical category heading into the final period. But with homecourt advantage on the line, the Lakers forced nine straight misses on the defensive end, and Trevor Ariza hit a three-pointer with seven and a half minutes remaining to give the Lakers their first lead (81-80) since the 7:01 mark of the first quarter. Ariza scored 8 points in the final period quarter; none more important than two free throws after another game-changing steal.

With 37.1 seconds remaining on the clock, and L.A. up two after four straight points from Kobe Bryant, including a dagger 3-ball with 1:10 remaining and the Lakers down two, Ariza stepped in front of a pass intended for Carmelo Anthony and raced upcourt for the layup. Anthony quickly fouled Ariza from behind to prevent the open attempt, but Ariza knocked down both free throws to extend Los Angeles’ lead to four with 36.5 seconds remaining in the game. It was a free throw parade from that point on as Bryant knocked down four more freebies to silence the Denver crowd, which serenaded him with “Kobe sucks!” as the clock ticked down to zero.

Asked about the chants after the game, Bryant said: “It really helped me, to be honest with you because I couldn’t feel my legs one bit, not at all. And when they started chanting that, it just reminded me what we’re playing for and where we’re playing.”

Bryant scored 41 points on 12-of-24 from the field, 2-of-5 from the three-point line, and 15-of-17 from the free throw line. Fourteen of Bryant’s game-high 41 points came in the final period. Pau Gasol chipped in with 20 points, and 11 rebounds. And Ariza added 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.

Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points, but failed to record a single field goal in the second half and finished just 4-of-13 from the field. Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Nene, Dahntay Jones, and J.R. Smith each scored in double-figures for Denver.

The Lakers proved why they were the league’s best road team during the regular season (29-12), but truth be told, they stole another victory from the Nuggets. Los Angeles upped their defensive intensity in the fourth quarter, however the Nuggets failed to capitalize on a number of good looks.

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